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Monday, October 03, 2016

Every Survivor Deserves Support—Including Those in Prison

Every Survivor Deserves Support—Including Those in Prison image

BARCC believes that all survivors deserve support in healing from the trauma of sexual violence. We also know that sexual violence affects thousands of people who are in the correctional system. That’s why BARCC established the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Project in 2015 to provide vital support to survivors of sexual violence who are incarcerated in Massachusetts. The PREA Project is designed around federal regulations released in 2012 aimed at reducing sexual assault in prison.

Survivors in the system

“The rates of sexual violence in prison are very high,” says Dave Rini, BARCC’s PREA Project coordinator. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found, in its Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12 report, that about 4% of people in federal and state prison experienced a sexual assault in the past 12 months—that’s approximately 62,000 people. The percentage for survivors in jail was a little lower at 3.2%, which is roughly 20,000 people. Keep in mind that reported numbers are undoubtedly low given the shame and stigma that make sexual violence under-reported across the board.

In addition, people often come into the correctional system already being survivors. Dave explains, “A lot of people end up in the system in the first place because of incidents stemming from unresolved trauma, including sexual violence.” Examples include young survivors who use drugs as a way to cope with what they’ve experienced or survivors of sex trafficking, who may be prosecuted for prostitution. “We know that most people are coming into the system with multiple layers of trauma,” says Katia Santiago-Taylor, BARCC’s manager of system advocacy.

In prisons, jails, and correctional facilities, survivors face a host of challenges:

  • Limited resources: Prisoners can’t use the internet. They have less access to people and materials that will help them process the trauma they’ve experienced, find healing, and explore their options.
  • Lack of control: Being incarcerated significantly limits the choices survivors can make. Regaining a sense of control is a paramount aspect of healing and difficult to have in a correctional facility.
  • Goal of the prison system: The goal of the correctional facility is not to support healing for survivors. While BARCC works to empower survivors, the prison system works to maintain control over them and their activities.

“BARCC cares about supporting all survivors in their healing, and that’s why it’s important for us to be in prisons and jails,” Dave says.

What is PREA?

Thanks to advocacy from the prison reform community, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003 and the U.S. Department of Justice released PREA regulations in 2012. “In terms of real implementation of legislation, PREA is still really new, and not many providers are doing this kind of work yet,” shares Dave. “We’re learning about the best ways to do it, which we’ll then be able to share with other advocates to more effectively serve survivors who are incarcerated.”

BARCC’s work is about more than the law, though. “We are working to help prisons not only meet their legal obligations but to help them develop trauma-sensitive ways of interacting with survivors that can work for them,” Katia says. PREA work is about supporting people who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence both before and during the dehumanizing experience of being incarcerated.

What BARCC’s PREA Project offers survivors

BARCC works with three agencies—the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, and the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office, to provide support in 21 facilities throughout the state. “For survivors, we are creating a safer space in which they can be believed and supported, where they can confidentially discuss trauma they’ve experienced,” Katia says in describing what the PREA Project provides survivors.

BARCC’s free PREA services include the following:

  • Confidential PREA hotline, 12 hours a day, for survivors to get emotional support, information about making reports, and more
  • Accompaniment at the hospital when a prisoner is there for a sexual assault evidence collection exam
  • A mail program that provides resources, recommendations, and referrals
  • Orientation and education for prisoners on their PREA rights and how to access resources

From August 2015 through July 2016, the PREA hotline answered 108 calls and the mail program responded to 12 letters requesting resources. BARCC also provides training for correctional staff and administrators about the impact of sexual violence. BARCC has conducted multiple trainings for all three agencies on the following topics:

  • Understanding sexual violence
  • Obligations under PREA
  • Impact of trauma
  • How to support survivors by providing safety, offering options, walking through the process, and recognizing needs

Moving forward

BARCC is currently working on improving communication and visibility of our PREA services within the facilities we’re working with. “We are providing the most comprehensive PREA rape crisis services in Massachusetts,” says Katia, “and with additional funding we hope to do more. We are starting to see survivors seek services after being released.” Moving forward, BARCC is exploring ideas for reentry services to help survivors with their healing after their time in prison with solid connections and resources.

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 10/03 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Monday, September 12, 2016

Survivor Speakers Bureau Training

Do you want to share your experience with sexual violence to inspire change? 

BARCC is hosting a survivor speaker training for people interested in sharing their stories with media, in legislative actions, and elsewhere.

“The Speakers Bureau Training is such a supportive environment where I learned how to share my story in ways that educate others about sexual violence and inspire advocacy and action.” –Sarah, survivor speaker for more than five years

The training will focus on how to tell your story, interact with audiences, and answer questions. This training will give you the tools to do the following: 

  • Speak with the media
  • Be a part of legislative action
  • Speak with schools, colleges, and communities
  • Use your voice to create change

BARCC's Survivor Speakers Bureau is also a great opportunity to connect with other survivor speakers. 

Read more about the Survivor Speakers Bureau. 

Training details

Location: All trainings will be held at BARCC's 99 Bishop Allen Dr. office located in Cambridge, MA.  There is metered parking and the office is easily accessible by public transit near the Central Square stop on the Red Line and several bus routes.

Time: Monday evenings, 6:30–8:00 p.m. 

Dates: October 17-December 5. 

Notes: Speakers must be able to commit to all of the dates of training.  The Survivors Speakers Bureau is open to survivors of all genders.

For more information: Contact Steph Trilling, director of BARCC's Community Awareness and Prevention Services, at 617-492-8306 or via e-mail

Applications due: Friday, September 16

Download the application. 

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 09/12 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Webinar on Vicarious Trauma

Calling all providers working with survivors of sexual violence! Do you want to better understand vicarious trauma and explore ways to develop resiliency and healthy coping skills? Tune into a webinar this Thursday featuring Vanessa Siebald, our senior bilingual clinician. 

What: National TeleNursing Center Webinar on Vicarious Trauma

When: Thursday, August 25, 2016, 1:00–2:00 p.m. (EST)

How: Connect online by visiting and selecting "Enter as guest"; connect via phone by calling 866-546-3377 and using pass code: 962739. 

Check out the flyer and spread the word!


UPDATE (9/12/16): Missed the webinar? Watch a recording online!

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 08/23 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Announcing Teen Drop-In Sessions

Announcing Teen Drop-In Sessions image

Want to connect with other teens and learn more about BARCC? 

Come to one of our teen drop-in sessions this fall! Play games, hang out with friends, have a snack, relax after class, and more.


5:00–7:00 p.m. on the following Wednesdays:

  • September 7
  • September 21
  • October 5
  • October 19
  • November 2
  • November 16
  • December 7
  • December 21


BARCC's Cambridge office, 99 Bishop Allen Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139


Call Danielle at 617-649-1284 for more information!

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 08/16 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Let’s Focus on Healing, Prevention, and Accountability

The following post was written by Stephanie Trilling, director of BARCC’s community awareness and prevention services.

In a recent Boston Globe op-ed entitled “Don’t encourage young women to feel traumatized,” Wendy Kaminer derides the work of activists working to end sexual violence. Kaminer’s piece unfairly judges activists and survivors, ignores survivors’ realities, and only distracts from the vital work needed to end sexual violence. Our take at BARCC is that survivors are courageous for coming forward about any kind of sexual violence, that each survivor experience and response is unique and valid, and that we need to focus on supporting all survivors, on prevention, and on institutional accountability.

Strength in coming forward

First off, no matter what kind of sexual violence they have experienced, survivors show strength and resilience in coming forward and acknowledging how they've been affected. This is especially true in a culture that, on the whole, blames survivors, excuses offenders, and minimizes sexual violence.

At BARCC, day in and day out, we work with clients who have been deeply affected by their experiences. Most of these survivors tell us that no one has ever acknowledged their pain, that they feel “crazy,” that they think they should be stronger. We work with survivors of all genders who struggle to get out of bed and go to work or to school each day, who are in jeopardy of losing or who have already lost their housing, who cannot sleep through the night without waking in fear from nightmares. All of these are common experiences for someone who has survived the trauma of sexual violence. Acknowledging the impact of sexual abuse and harassment takes great strength and asking for help is a courageous act, not a weakness.

Comparing forms of sexual violence: not helpful

When it comes to sexual violence, it is not helpful to compare experiences or to judge how people react to them. When referring to the assault of a student at Phillips Exeter Academy covered by the Globe, Kaminer wrote, “Many older women endured similar encounters over the years . . . and many of us emerged unscathed.” What women have survived in the past is no reason to excuse such violations in the present. Even more importantly, every survivor experiences the trauma of sexual violence uniquely and will respond differently; we must not dismiss anyone’s trauma based on someone else’s experience. And judging an individual’s response based on the experience they have had is neither productive nor helpful to survivors—or to institutions that are being called on to change how they respond to and prevent abuse.

How can anyone say what is more traumatic? It’s unfair to compare the various forms of sexual violence and their effects. We refuse to make such comparisons. There is, however, a lot to be gained from the solidarity that comes from acknowledging the impact of rape culture on women, LGBTQ folks, non-binary people, children, communities of color, people with disabilities, sex workers, immigrants, and all people who are targeted for being a part of a vulnerable population.  

Institutional response and betrayal

It’s important to note, too, that institutional response and betrayal can be just as traumatic for people as the initial event. When a survivor comes forward and is not believed, when an offender is not held accountable, when a survivor is mistreated in the process—that causes harm. And it makes it more difficult for others to come forward when they experience sexual violence.  

Kaminer argues that offenders are unfairly subject to the overcriminalization of sexual misconduct. Her response is dangerously close to the “boys will be boys” mentality. People who choose to exert their power over others and sexually violate them must be held accountable in order for their behavior—and the societal attitudes that enabled it—to change. The criminal justice system is far from perfect, and yes, we do need more robust treatment options for child and adult offenders, but to argue that society overcriminalizes sexual misconduct is gravely misguided (see “Criminal justice system ill-prepared to tackle cases of sexual violence,” a letter to the editor from Gina Scaramella, BARCC’s executive director, published by the Boston Globe).  

Healing, prevention, and institutional accountability

Ultimately, focusing on how survivors should or shouldn't react distracts from the work of healing sexual trauma, holding offenders and institutions accountable, and advancing work to prevent sexual violence.

In her closing, Kaminer claims that activists are “imposing . . . expectations of trauma” and “stigmatizing resilience.” This is far from the truth. What is more resilient than a young person coming forward and speaking out, not just against her assailant’s behaviors, but an entire system that has been set up to repeatedly excuse and minimize the behaviors of offenders and to question, ridicule, and place blame on survivors? At BARCC, we believe that there is no act more resilient than a person speaking out against a broken system that excuses offenders and puts the burden on survivors.

We are in solidarity with all survivors who take great risks in sharing their stories and demanding systemic change to address sexual violence. And we are deeply committed to preventing sexual violence in the first place. The more we educate people of all ages to understand consent, respect others’ bodies, and take action as bystanders, the more we move toward ending all forms of sexual violence.

Find out more about BARCC’s community awareness and prevention services.

Stephanie Trilling is the director of BARCC’s community awareness and prevention services.

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Posted by Jessica L. Atcheson on 07/27 • (0) CommentsPermalink

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